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Dublin: 10 °C Wednesday 19 June, 2019
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National Breastfeeding Week: Irish breastfeeding rates below European neighbours'

The HSE says this year’s event will focus on the importance of breastfeeding for the health of children and mothers, and highlight how rates of breastfeeding in Ireland fall way below those of other European countries.

Five-month-old April Coveney and mother Therese are pictured as part of National Breastfeeding Week
Five-month-old April Coveney and mother Therese are pictured as part of National Breastfeeding Week
Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

NATIONAL BREASTFEEDING WEEK 2012 kicks off today, with the HSE has highlighting recent data from the ESRI which shows that breastfeeding rates in Ireland are well below those of the our European neighbours.

Five out of every 10 babies born in Ireland are breastfed, in comparison to eight out of every 10 in the UK.  Meanwhile, across Europe on average nine out of every 10 babies born are breastfed, with almost all babies born in Norway, Denmark and Sweden being breastfed.

Ireland also displays regional variations in breastfeeding rates:  six out of every 10 babies born in Dublin City and County, Cork, Galway, Meath, Waterford and Wicklow are breastfed – but fewer than four out of every 10 babies born in Limerick and Donegal are breastfed.

“Our current breastfeeding rates remain much lower than those in Britain or across Europe. However, more and more mothers in Ireland are choosing to breastfeed and our breastfeeding rates are gradually improving year on year,” commented Professor Michael Turner, Professor of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, at the start of National Breastfeeding Week. “We need to support more mothers to breastfeed and to breastfeed for longer, because breastmilk not only protects infants from childhood illnesses, it also contributes to long-term health”.

The theme of this year’s National Breastfeeding Week, which runs from Monday 1 October to Sunday 7 October, is ‘Good Health begins with Breastfeeding’, and will focus on the importance of breastfeeding for the health of children and mothers.

The HSE cites “extensive international research” which it says demonstrates that breastfeeding gives health protection to both the baby and mother. It says that children who are not breastfed:

  • Are more likely to develop ear, nose and throat infections
  • Are more likely to develop gastroenteritis, kidney and chest infections
  • Have a greater risk of obesity and of developing diabetes
  • Have an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

The HSE says breastfeeding also helps the women by helping to protect against ovarian and breast cancer, as well as helping new mothers to maintain a healthy post-pregnancy weight.

Siobhan Hourigan, National Breastfeeding Co-Ordinator with the HSE said:

Many mums tell us that when they were pregnant they thought about breastfeeding because of the health protection it would give their baby, but weren’t sure they could do it. We know that with the right support mothers can breastfeed successfully for as long as they want to. Those Mums now tell us that they continue breastfeeding because they want to maintain the health protection as well as enjoying other aspects like the convenience of breastfeeding and how it helps with soothing and comforting their baby.

The HSE says mothers who are exclusively breastfeeding – ie feeding their baby only breastmilk – upon leaving hospital tend to breastfeed for longer than those who use a combination of breastfeeding and other feeding.

Saying that the “most health protection for both baby and mother is gained from exclusive breastfeeding and from breastfeeding for a longer period of time”, the Department of Health and the HSE say they recommend exclusive breastfeeding for all infants for the first six months.

From six months, as other foods are introduced, breastfeeding can continue up to 2 years of age or older, says the HSE.

Many events will take place across the country to mark National Breastfeeding Week 2012:

  • Monday 1 October: ESRI in partnership with HSE will hold a half day conference ‘Breastfeeding in Ireland 2012: Consequences and Policy Responses’.
  • Tuesday 2 October: launch of the Mother-to-Mother 1,000 Days project by Concern, see www.concern.ie for more details.
  • Saturday 6 and 7 October: CUIDIÚ Parenting Conference takes place in Ballincolig, see www.cuidiu-ict.ie for more details.

Mother to mother support is a real feature of breastfeeding and parenting support in Ireland, and can be found at a local Public Health Nurse, La Leche League or CUIDIÚ breastfeeding and parenting support group meeting. Details of groups in each county are available on www.breastfeeding.ie or by calling 1850 24 1850.

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